Desperation grows in Kabul as evacuations enter final days

Pentagon working to meet August 31st deadline as Irish mission nears end

Families evacuated from Kabul, Afghanistan, arrive at Washington Dulles International Airport in Virginia on Wednesday. Photograph: Jose Luis Magana/AP

Families evacuated from Kabul, Afghanistan, arrive at Washington Dulles International Airport in Virginia on Wednesday. Photograph: Jose Luis Magana/AP

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A plane has been taking off almost every half hour from Kabul airport, the US said on Wednesday, as the evacuation of foreign nationals and vulnerable Afghans enters its last few desperate days.

The Pentagon said it was still working to an August 31st deadline to complete the US evacuation but had contingency plans in case that deadline had to be extended. In 24 hours from Tuesday to Wednesday, a total of 19,000 people were flown out of the airport on 90 planes, at a rate of one aircraft every 39 minutes.

US secretary of state Antony Blinken said there could be as many as 1,500 American civilians still in Afghanistan.

As of Wednesday afternoon Afghan time, 10,000 people were at the Hamid Karzai International Airport waiting to board flights, and many thousands more were still trying to get there through Taliban checkpoints and through the airport gates, manned by soldiers, marines and consular officials.

The Irish mission to Kabul is expected to conclude by the weekend, with Irish evacuees expected to secure slots on departing planes. The two diplomats and nine Army rangers who travelled to Afghanistan to organise the departures earlier this week are also expected home in the coming days.

Deteriorating

The Government is braced for a tense few days amid deteriorating conditions at the airport. It remains unclear whether all Irish passport holders can be evacuated before Tuesday’s deadline.

Security briefings from sources on the ground are understood to have emphasised the danger of further unrest in and near the airport as US troops begin to leave. Observers fear the development could trigger panic among the crowds.

According to Pentagon figures, 88,000 people have so far been flown out of Kabul since the Taliban took control, of which 4,400 are American citizens. Afghans with visas pending are being flown to screening centres in Europe and the Middle East.

It is clear that very large numbers of Afghans who had hoped to escape would be left trapped under Taliban rule.

Meanwhile, US allies who were part of the coalition in Afghanistan – including Turkey and Poland – have been winding up their own evacuations. The French operation is expected to end on Thursday.

The Department of Foreign Affairs declined to comment on the Irish mission on Wednesday night, describing it only as “a short-duration deployment focused primarily on providing consular support at the airport to Irish citizens and their dependants”.

– Additional reporting Guardian

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